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Wordplay: Irregular Conjugations
An amusing form of wordplay that is more difficult than it appears
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2013/12/11
2:44pm
Glenn
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This repressed memory was brought back by Bob’s recent post on middle voice.

When I was in high school, I sat for an exam in which one of the questions dealt with a particular kind of wordplay they called “irregular conjugations.” I still think of these from time to time. As I recall, the instructions explained that an “irregular conjugation” consisted of a set of verb forms for the singular persons. In an ideal “irregular conjugation” the verb for the first person has honorable connotations; second person was objective; third person was pejorative. An ideal “irregular conjugation” accomplished this entirely with verbs, and did not resort to adverbs or adjective phrases.

Actually, it is fairly easy to do with adjectives. And most of the examples you will find make liberal use of adjectives. (e.g. I am firm. You are obstinate. He is pigheaded.) Pish! But entirely with verbs it is much trickier, much more beautiful, and much more satisfying.

I don’t remember what I said on the exam, but I’m sure I came up with some pretty sad specimens.

To start us off, here are two examples:
I quaff; you imbibe; he swigs
I disclose; you divulge; he blabs

Can you eschew the verb to be and come up with really good, high-quality “irregular conjugations”?

2013/12/11
9:13pm
Bob Bridges
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Hm, you’re right, that is harder.  I have a few offerings I think will satisfy the conditions:

  • persuade, manipulate, bully
  • enlighten, lecture, blather
  • direct, boss, tyrannize
  • impress, overawe, terrorize

Then there are some I’m less happy with.  “Consider, focus, obsess”?  Or is “focus, ?, obsess” better, with some intermediate verb in the middle?  And then there’s “concern myself, worry, panic”; I like the progression, but I wish I could find a single word for the first one.

I’m also working on “retreat, flee”, but I can’t figure out what I’d put in the first or middle position.  If we were allowed adverbs it’d be easier:  “I initiate a strategic retreat, you give way, he flees in terror”, that sort of thing.  But to keep it pure is much more difficult.

2013/12/11
11:14pm
tromboniator
Alaska
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I portray, you impersonate, he apes.

I had a performance (acting) tonight, so it’s on my mind.

2013/12/12
12:44am
Glenn
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Bob Bridges said

I’m also working on “retreat, flee”, but I can’t figure out what I’d put in the first or middle position. 

Nice ones.

How about
I regroup; you retreat; he flees

I specialize; you focus; he obsesses

2013/12/12
6:58am
Glenn
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I captain, you manage, she bosses.

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